Written by Kate Wolf for The Ord Quiz. Originally Published in The Ord Quiz: Wednesday, March 2, 2022, Vol. 141, No. 9
Thank you to The Ord Quiz for permission to re-publish this article on LVCI's website and for helping to share the stories of initiatives to address the important topic of childcare capacity in the Valley County area.
On Sat., Feb. 26, the Loup Valley Childhood Initiative (LVCI) demonstrated the scope of their outreach and the importance of their mission. They have leveraged over $10,000 in external grant funds and professional resources to be invested directly into child care providers in the areas of facility improvement grants, provider education and training, provider outreach and appreciation, as well as offering free Educational Unit hours to help maintain state licensure. They create focus groups among stakeholders to seek a solution to the child care crisis in our area.
After Saturday’s meeting, LVCI also hosted a production of “The Pretty Fire” by the Crane River Theatre Co. at the Golden Husk in Ord. Playwright Charlayne West shared her experiences as a young African-American girl with stories of family and faith as a way to ignite thought-provoking perspectives on embracing others’ lived experiences and differences. It was open to the public but was also offered free as required Educational Unit hours for licensed child care providers.
This spring, they will also be conducting a follow-up survey to pinpoint the specific unaddressed child care needs in Valley County by targeting the size and age of groups requiring care, in addition to the range of hours that need to be covered. That’s a lot of ground to cover but LVCI is determined to get it right.
“The survey data will provide us with a well-rounded perspective and enable the community to create informed solutions moving forward,” explained LVCI President Melani Flynn.
Saturday’s combined dinner and business meeting, hosted by LCVI, brought together a large and extremely varied group of professional child care providers from Valley, Wheeler, Custer and Garfield counties. They included: pre-schools, child care centers, after school programs, as well as in-home providers to network, discuss challenges, brain-storm about solutions, share memories and laughter and to support one another in the most difficult, yet rewarding, careers to which a person can choose to dedicate their lives….caring for other people’s children.
This opportunity for providers and staff was made possible by LVCI and partnerships within the Communities for Kids Initiative, non-profit organizations that serve a much broader area than just Valley County and, therefore, must keep the entire scope of a much bigger picture in mind. All rural communities in our area are experiencing a critical shortage of quality, available child care and all providers require urgent support to meet this escalating need. The construction of one new child care facility will not satisfy this need….it’s just the beginning.
More than 438 years of combined experience was gathered together at Jubilee in Ord for Saturday’s meeting. One provider alone had 49 years of experience and had cared for at least 402 children during that time. Think about that….think about the responsibility these professional providers undertake. And their profession continues to evolve. They are no longer mere “babysitters”….they are the CEO’s of their own small businesses. Working towards the sustainability of all of these businesses is LVCI’s goal.
The LVCI Board members are: President Melani Flynn, Secretary Katie Walmsley, Vice President Nichole Sutton, Jessica Piskorski and Amber Mentzer. The CORE Team consists of: Crystal Ramm, Jeanette Koelling, Janet Eppenbach, Shannon Adams-Weber, Michelle Dredge, Guidance Counselor Colin Lansman, Chrisinda Scheideler and Social Media/Outreach Coordinator Kristina Foth. Others in attendance at the meeting were: Garfield County/Sandhills First Steps Early Child Care Coordinator Theresa Petska and Custer County for Kids Coordinator Melissa Crawford.
Petska addressed the group stating, “You people are the champions in working with children and improving the child care landscape in our area. You are the heroes. Because of the relationship you forge with these kids, you are in their hearts and they are in yours for a life time.” Melissa Crawford agreed.
“You are raising the next generation and the next and the next,” she added, illustrating the longevity of the LVCI mission.
Did you know that 90 percent of children’s brains are formed by the time they are six years old? Starting from the moment a child is born, at least a million neural connections form every second throughout the brain, according to studies performed by Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child. This incredibly rapid brain growth creates the template which determines who we eventually become as individuals.
Additional studies have shown that the environment a toddler experiences in early child care can alter the trajectory of their lives and have a marked impact on their futures. Kids who receive quality child care and early childhood education are more likely to become better students and graduate, get better jobs, avoid welfare, own their own homes and generally live healthier lives. For every dollar spent on quality child care, an average $4-$13 is returned investment, especially in at-risk children, because less will be spent in the future on special education, criminal prosecution or social safety-net programs. This is why quality child care and early childhood education is so important.
According to the Buffet Early Childhood Institute at UNL, roughly 75 percent of all Nebraska’s youngsters grow up in homes where all available parents must work. It became clear that Valley County needed a long-term solution to support existing child care providers, as well as creating additional capacity for those children for whom access to reliable, quality child care does not exist within a broader multi-county area.
LVCI was created in April 2020 when Valley County was chosen to be a part of the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation program, “Communities for Kids”. This program supports young children, families, as well as child care providers through a multi-year planning and implementation initiative in response to community requests for assistance with shortages of early childhood and educational programs.
As a nonprofit organization, LVCI was created as a way to meet and sustain the future child care needs of Valley County, and other surrounding counties, by emphasizing support of all local providers towards growing thriving businesses, produce engaging and educational environments for children and create community-driven solutions which address family needs for high quality child care.
The Loup Valley Childhood Initiative also gets involved on a state level. Earlier this year, Katie Walmsley, Coordinator for LVCI, attended the Policy Leadership Academy which focused on Nebraska’s legislative process. She, and others, visited with District 41 Senator Tom Briese about ways to support LB 1203, a bill to designate some of Nebraska’s nearly $100 million in ARPA funds (American Rescue Plan Act of 2021) for child care. As of this writing, at least eight other bills supporting childcare have received committee hearings.
On April 7, LVCI is also sponsoring a class from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Central Community College in Ord entitled “Opening a Family Child Care Home Business” which includes testimonials from current home providers, the benefits of Family Home Child Care and various available helpful resources in Nebraska.
The Nebraska Center for Research on Children, Youth, Families and Schools (CYFS) Summit is to be held April 13 at the Nebraska Innovation Campus Conference Center in Lincoln to learn about cutting-edge early childhood research being conducted across the University of Nebraska system to improve developmental trajectories for young children. Registration is open until March 15.
LVCI also has applied for and has access to funds which support providers as mini-grants in the areas of facility improvements, safety equipment, and developmental and age-appropriate equipment. The application deadline is April 15, 2022 for the “Provider Improvement Grant” and it’s available to child care providers in Valley, Sherman and Greeley Counties.
The Loup Valley Childhood Initiative is working hard to develop a path forward in addressing the child care needs in our area. The groundwork is already being laid to improve child care and early childhood education opportunities in Valley County. Some businesses are working towards helping to solve child care shortages for employees. Schools, non-profit organizations and small rural communities are beginning to work together to solve this important issue.
Of course, there is no magic solution, but LVCI has studied the problem at great length and tracked cutting-edge research carefully. They endorse quality child care and early childhood education as the best way to create a future that is better than the present by (1) attracting more families to our area, (2) helping providers start and grow their businesses, (3) offering quality local training and education, and (4) supporting innovative child care solutions as a leader and partner.
Remember, 90 percent of a child’s brain is already formed by the age of six. Multiply that by the number of youngsters in our multi-county area that do not have access to quality child care or early childhood education and you may begin to understand the broader scope of the problem. Fortunately, the Loup Valley Childhood Initiative is focused on a solution. Find out how you can be part of the solution today.